Three of America’s top racing cyclists were at Miller School for the Headmaster’s Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 17, an occasion when all the school convenes in formal dress, to describe what it takes to achieve true excellence at something.
Miller is developing a cycling program under teacher and dean of the faculty Peter Hufnagle. Nine miles of trails on the school’s expansive property are being cleared to allow mountain biking and a endurance cycling team is training at the school for road races next spring. A class will design and build a competition-quality bike and the students enrolled will also become licensed cycle mechanics.
Andy Guptill races for the Jamis/Sutter Home team, America’s top team. He was second in the nation at age 17 and ranks ninth in the country now. He lives in Afton. Andrea Dvorzak, who is married to Hufnagle, is on the U.S.’s top women’s team, Colavita/Sutter Home, as well as the U.S. national team, and will race in the women’s Tour de France next year. She has raced in every major race in the world. Ben King, of North Garden, is the current U.S. national champion, the youngest in history, and races with Lance Armstrong on Team Radio Shack. They made a happy tableau of lean, taut, flourishing youth.
“All these racers share the characteristic of being very aggressive racers,” Hufnagle said.
“It’s my only shot—to break away,” quipped Guptill.
Racing tactics are based on managing wind, Dvorzak explained. Every racer on the eight-person teams has a specific job to do, she said.
“It’s all about drafting, just like NASCAR,” said Guptill. “That allows you to save your energy until the final moment when you go into the wind and try to win. It’s the team’s victory if you do it right.”
“Some people are good at climbing, some at sprinting and some are all-rounders,” added King. “A race is planned and everyone knows what to do.”
November is the sport’s off-season, so the three were taking about three weeks off from their grueling training regimes. Race training can involve cycling 140-mile routes day after day. Guptill, who started riding bikes as a way to visit his friends, said he spends about 35 hours per week on a bike. Dvorzak added that she goes to the gym three days a week as well to lift weights and do yoga. Their regular routines involve early bedtimes, lots of emphasis on nutrition and massages.
“Cycling is not cool in the U.S.,” said King. “I missed a lot of class in high school [at Monticello] to compete in Europe. Cyclists are heroes there. It’s soccer and cycling there.” The three said they are known and recognized by European fans and are often stopped there to sign photographs of themselves. “It’s huge in Europe,” Guptill repeated.
Dvorzak came to cycling by way of the U.Va. cross country team. She met U.Va. cyclists and got hooked. Meanwhile she’s passed the Virginia Bar Exam. “Cycling helps me study,” she said.
Ben King went to Virginia Tech for two years and then turned pro. He will be racing in Italy in January. All three are supported by their sponsors and they have publicity duties, such as Dvorzak’s monthly photo appearances in Cooking Light magazine.
“It’s important how you handle yourself off the bike,” said King. “Sports teaches a lot of discipline. To be successful, you have to be really dedicated. Sponsors know they can trust that.”
“I’ve learned to never give up,” said Guptill. “You gotta push through. Give everything until the very end.”
“I’ve learned to trust the process,” said King, who broke a collar bone in an accident last year. “Your hard work will get paid back.”
“My slogan is nothing behind me matters,” said Dvorzak.
All have experienced bad accidents, crashes at 50 miles per hour and the injury they called “road rash.”
“The sound of a crash is the worst sound. You can hear metal and flesh on the road,” Dvorzak said.
“It feels terrible to run over someone, too,” King added.
“A peloton [file of racers] is only inches apart so they tend to fall like dominoes,” explained Guptill.
“This is the best place in the world to ride a bike,” Guptill said, because Albemarle has lots of beautiful rural roads with little traffic.
“I’ve raced in 11 countries this year and this is one of the best places to ride in the world,” King agreed.